Very rarely does the perfect storm hit, and even more rarely does it hit physically and metaphorically. On Sunday afternoon in Chicago, Illinois, a flash flood hit, putting the inaugural Chicago Street Course race in jeopardy. Multiple inches of water consumed the pit road front stretch area at times, but somehow, someway, things got to a raceable state, and NASCAR got things in.
Now for the metaphorical perfect storm. Enter Shane van Gisbergen: Three-time and reigning Champion of V8 Supercars out of the Red Bull AMPOL camp. 78-time V8 Supercars race winner, including two of the last three Bathurst 1000s. In addition, he's the all-time V8 Supercars leader for wins in a season, 21 total just last year. Not to mention the fact he's one of only two men to have won the Bathurst 1000, the 6 Hours of Bathurst, and the 12 Hours of Bathurst. So yes, SVG is the realest of deals.
We found out earlier this year that Justin Marks and the folks over at Trackhouse had brought SVG aboard to their critically acclaimed Project91 program, where non-NASCAR drivers can get a shot to cross over in race-winning equipment. Before this weekend, only former F1 Champion Kimi Raikkonen has been a part of the program and had a pair of good runs spoiled by no fault of his own. SVG is in a different situation, he's in the prime of his career at 34 years old, and there are maybe a few drivers anywhere in the world who are actively better than him at most.
As soon as the No. 91 Camaro ZL1 rolled off the truck, it was crystal clear that van Gisbergen put in some real simulator work. He paced the lone practice session of the weekend by three-tenths over Denny Hamlin and former F1 Champion Jenson Button. More of the same in qualifying, as van Gisbergen ended up third, setting things up great for Sunday. Now there are some slight overlaps between a V8 Supercar and a Cup car, but seeing how quickly he got up to speed was awesome.
By the time it was 18 laps to go, Christopher Bell, who had led a race-high 37 laps, got caught up in the turn one tires after he missed the corner, with Tyler Reddick doing the same in turn six a mere two laps later, causing a caution. Van Gisbergen found himself in 10th at this point, but he had a significant tire and fuel advantage over some front runners, namely Chase Elliott and Justin Haley. After gaining some free spots under yellow, what happened next was out of this world. SVG began picking guys off in record time. The tires certainly helped, but the guys he was getting by were the likes of Kyle Busch, Kyle Lason, Joey Logano, and Elliott. In under eight laps, SVG had worked his way from seventh to second, and it would have been first had Martin Truex Jr not gone hard into the tires in turn one.
Getting by Haley was going to be a matter of if not when for SVG, but despite that, the Kaulig Racing driver wasn't going to give up without a fight. Just watch this mini-battle, maybe the best of the NASCAR season.
Even after another late caution, it was all just a formality. Van Gisbergen, in one of the biggest NASCAR wins in the last two decades, also became the first driver to win their Cup Series debut in 60.5 years. Simply incredible work all around, from him, to crew chief Darian Grubb, and everyone else on that 91 team.
Fastest Man on the Planet
It's ironic that SVG potentially pole-vaulted himself in the seat of being Best in the World in CM Punk's backyard, and in my mind, he did exactly. To be the best race car driver in the world, you can't just be a one-trick pony. Formula 1 isn't the be-all-end-all despite what some may say, but on the other hand, neither is NASCAR or IndyCar. Speaking freely, being the best means you can go just about anywhere in any car and be highly competitive every time out. Hypotheticals are one thing, but we've seen SVG be an elite talent in V8 Supercars, endurance racing, NASCAR, and hell, he's even giving Sprint Car and World Rally racing a shot down under. Especially given how 2022 went down, I have a hard time saying there's a single race car driver better than van Gisbergen after Sunday. Not Kyle Larson, not Max Verstappen, not Sebastien Loeb, no one. And guess what? We might be seeing a lot more of SVG in the United States sooner than you may think.
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